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If you have children and are anything like my wife and I, then you've probably had some sleepless nights thinking about how to pay for college.
And the more kids that you have ... the more I'm sure the cost of college is on your mind. I know that I think about the rising costs of higher education almost every single day!
We have 3 children ... all unique in their own ways.
Ever since we had our first child, my wife and I set a goal of helping him one day earn a 4-year college degree ... with zero debt.
That is $0 of debt for him ... and certainly no debt for my wife and I!
And just to be fair, we've adopted that same goal for our other 2 kids ... obviously.
So just how are we planning to help all 3 of them graduate with a 4-year degree with no debt?
I'm glad you asked.
Today I plan to share another college tuition hack called dual enrollment.
I will cover what it is and how we are planning to use it to help pay for college starting next year.
What is Dual Enrollment?
Dual enrollment courses allow high school students the opportunity to take college level courses early.
Often times the courses are taught at a local community college or university. Depending on the state and school district your child attends, many of the expenses like tuition will be covered.
Through dual enrollment ... students enroll in college courses while also attending high school classes.
Usually these classes are limited to juniors and seniors and by passing the course, students can earn college credits while still in high school.
If you are looking for ways to help save on college tuition for you or your child, then dual enrollment may be a good option to keep costs low.
These programs are offered at the state level and rules can vary. So you will need to search for specific details on the state in which you or your child attend high school.
For more information, check out the U.S. Department of Education resource on dual enrollment.
Now that you know a little more about dual enrollment, I'd like to share our experience (so far) with this college savings hack.
How to Pay for College Using Dual Enrollment
A few weeks ago, my son and I attended an informational meeting at his school on dual enrollment.
We live in North Carolina, which offers a dual enrollment program called Career & College Promise (CCP) to eligible high school students. This program allows these students to enroll in college classes at most community colleges and universities in the state through their high school.
Note - Since each state is different, we can only comment on what is offered in North Carolina. Be sure to research the dual enrollment programs offered in your state for more details.
Since our son is currently a high school sophomore, he will be eligible to begin taking dual enrollment classes starting his junior year.
Our plan to help pay for college for all of our children has always been to leverage dual enrollment through the local high school.
These classes won't cover the entire cost of earning a 4-year college degree, but are another tool we are leveraging to lower the cost of a degree.
With our rising high school junior, this is the first time we have the opportunity to take advantage of dual enrollment.
Below I will share a few of the details about this program and how we plan to use it to help pay for college.
Dual Enrollment Eligibility Requirements
Below is a list of eligibility requirements for our son to enroll in dual enrollment classes starting his fall semester of his junior year of high school -
The list of eligibility requirements isn't too bad to be honest. Maintaining an unweighted GPA greater than 2.8 in high school is certainly manageable for most students.
In terms of picking a single pathway, the North Carolina program offers multiple options for college transfer and even a technical pathway for those looking to pursue a trade related career.
The college pathway our son is choosing is the Associate in Science College Transfer Pathway. This is the recommended path for students interested in a STEM or technical major.
One of the other requirements is that students are responsible for their own transportation. This could be an issue for some students who don't have their drivers license yet or access to public transportation.
Our son just got his drivers license and we plan to purchase a used vehicle sometime before he starts his junior year.
Costs of Dual Enrollment
It seems that the cost of dual enrollment for the student varies between school districts in the state. And obviously the cost of dual enrollment could be much different in North Carolina compared to other states.
Currently, our son's school district will cover the tuition and student fee's for any dual enrollment class they take between their junior and senior years.
They will even cover those costs during the spring/summer semesters between 11th and 12th grade if the student wishes to take classes.
In addition, the school district covers the cost of tuition but not student fee's the summer semester after high school graduation.
So as you can tell ... this is a huge opportunity to help pay for college.
The only cost that students are responsible for while taking dual enrollment classes are textbooks and other required class supplies. And while textbooks are certainly not cheap ... I think that is a very good trade-off for free tuition.
In our situation with our son, we may decide to optimize the cost of his textbooks through our 529 college savings plan funds.
How Many Dual Enrollment Classes?
Based on the state and school district graduation requirements, our son will be eligible to take the following dual enrollment courses -
Overall, he can take 6 dual enrollment courses between his junior and senior years. We could mix and match these semesters up a little more ... but the format above seems to be the best option.
So for the price of textbooks for these classes, our son can potentially knock off 6 future college classes while in high school.
That's not a bad deal at all.
Dual Enrollment Summer Classes
In addition to taking classes during the normal school calendar, our son will have the option to take dual enrollment courses during the summer too.
The spring and summer semesters between his junior and senior year could be a great time to knock out a couple of classes to get more free tuition. Again, the only costs would be textbooks or other required class supplies.
Depending on how his junior goes with dual enrollment, we will likely consider this as an option.
The summer after our son will graduate also offers another opportunity to get additional free tuition for college courses.
Seniors will still have the option to have their courses paid for by the school district that summer after graduation. The only condition is that they will be responsible for course fee's at this point which is currently under $20 ... still a great value! And of course paying for the required textbooks.
Dual Enrollment - The Ultimate College Hack?
Just like saving money in a 529 college savings plan and taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school, dual enrollment offers another opportunity to help pay college tuition.
Over the next 2.5 years, our son has the opportunity to get credit for at least 6 (and possibly a lot more) college classes. All that is required financially is paying for textbooks and possibly some student fee's.
The dual enrollment program in our state offers another tool for our family to help pay for college tuition.
In a way I feel that dual enrollment classes are the ultimate college hack. Either that or taking AP courses, although those have more downsides from our experience.
We look forward to navigating this path to paying for college for our son. The cost of college doesn't scare us because we are making a plan to handle it by using many of the tools I have referenced.
And it won't stop with our oldest child either. Our middle child (now in 7th grade) will likely follow a similar path as our oldest.
However, he is in a different school district than our current high school student ... so it will be interesting to see the differences between school districts and what they offer and cover in terms of dual enrollment.
Have you or your children benefited from taking dual enrollment courses in high school? How much money did you ultimately save on college tuition?